Thursday, May 29, 2008

The objects of faith

Scripture sets forth two objects of faith - the Father and the Son. Christ says 'ye believe in God, believe also in me'. These are sweetly joined together in the phrase 'the mercies of God in Christ Jesus'. This is a scriptural phrase but it is also found in the Shorter Catechism definition of repentance unto life.

Thomas Goodwin (Vol. 8, Bk 2, Chap 1) writes that 'the mercies in God s nature are not the object of our faith, but as they are considered together with Christ. That God s mercies and Jesus Christ are accordingly propounded jointly to our faith'. He continues 'THERE are two grand objects our faith doth act upon, God the Father and
Jesus Christ; the Holy Spirit being the person who anoints us, generally teaching us all things. Our Saviour Christ therefore, John xvii. 3, having spoken of giving eternal life to them that believe, superadds, This is eternal life, to know thee (the Father), the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent; thereby setting forth them two as the objects which our faith and knowledge are carried out unto for eternal life ; which eternal life is begun in this world by the knowledge of faith, and perfected by the knowledge of sight in the world to come'.

'That which in the Father our faith doth specially act upon, are the riches of his grace; and free grace is indeed, and in reality, but the love of God in election, though uttered in absolute promises and declarations, yet expressed indefinitely as to persons. God indeed absolutely declareth in the promises and covenant of grace what his heart was and is unto an elect company, but conceals the persons (which promises I therefore term indefinite), thereby ascertaining us that there are some of mankind he so loves resolvedly and unchangeably, whom he intends therein; which promises shall infallibly take hold on them. And that covenant and those promises I call absolute, because they promise to give the very conditions required to salvation in that covenant.

The other object of our faith is Jesus Christ, both in his person and his suffering, death, resurrection, intercession ; and likewise the benefits that are the fruits of all these. And our faith is to aim at the having fellowship with him in all these, as the object of faith, as well as the free grace of God the Father. In all which benefits which our faith seeks from these two, I might quote many scriptures, wherein Christ and the free grace of the Father are still joined, and go hand in hand. I instance particularly in justification for all the rest, in which there is both the grace of the Father and the righteousness of the Son, that concur both thereunto; and our faith is distinctly to exercise itself upon both these, for obtaining justification. This conjunction you see in Rom. iii. 24, Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. You have it also in Rom. v. 15, The grace of God, that is, of God the Father, and the gift by grace (the gift of righteousness and justification thereby) which is by one man Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. And again he says at verse 17, They which receive abundance of grace, and of the gift of righteousness, &c. a righteousness by which we are made righteous, ver. 19. There is both the grace of God in the heart of the Father, and there is the gift of righteousness by grace, which is by one man Jesus Christ, as by whose righteousness we are made righteous; and these concur to our justification of life, as it is termed in verse 18.

Now, there being these two grand objects of the faith of all believers for the first benefit they are brought to seek at first, all converts under the gospel are therefore brought to a distinct communion and fellowship (through faith) both with the Father and also with the Son, to obtain both grace and righteousness from both, and afterwards in the course of their lives they enjoy a distinct fellowship with both Father and Son: 1 John i. 3, These things I write to you, that you may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ; with these two objectively is our fellowship transacted. The Holy Ghost is he who, 1 John ii. 20, is styled the anointing of us and our eyes, to
converse with these, and by whom we know all things; but our fellowship is objectively with the Father, and with his Son.'

Goodwin goes on to write of how the ark and the mercy-seat typified this relationship of Christ and the mercies of God in him as the objects of faith. He infers that because the mercy-seat was topmost on the ark that The mercy-seat was uppermost on the top of the ark 'that all the grace in God's heart flowing to us is through Christ, and as supported by Christ, and his mediation and expiation, so as it is God s grace and mercy as in Christ'.

Goodwin also observes that the mercy-seat and the ark were 'both of a like size and proportion, as long, as broad, as deep, the one as the other (Exod. xxv. 10,
17 compared), to shew that however the essential grace and mercy in God's nature is essentially infinite, yet his dispensatory mercy and grace laid up for us, and intended towards us sinners of the sons of men, are of the same extent and commensuration with Christ, and his merits and righteousness, &c., because all that grace which God hath intended to bestow upon us, for the matter, manner, or measure, is but commensurable, and of like extent, with all that Christ purchased and procured, and is no more nor no less. As also because that these two must never be
separated; for God hath conjoined them thus closely and immediately one
to the other, only God's grace is uppermost, and the fountain of us, and
Christ, and all; and the glory of it is the supreme end of all, Eph. i. 5.6.'

Goodwin points out the practical matter that some people find it hard to focus upon Christ and the Father equally. 'Some converts indeed more distinctly, and withal amply and abundantly, have their hearts run out sometimes to God the Father and pursue after the attainment of his love and grace, and have their hearts drawn and set more largely to treat with the Father, and his grace, and to seek the obtain
ing more frequently the manifestations of his grace, and have their hearts more intent upon what his work for their salvation in his heart is. They consider that it was he who first decreed Christ, and our salvation through him, and called Christ to die for us, and gave us to Christ, &c., and with a peremptory and unchangeable love ordained the salvation of some through faith and holiness ; and accordingly they desire to have the manifestations of his grace made forth upon their souls. But others have the Lord Jesus Christ in their eye, and treat with him through his death, redemption, and the works which he performed towards it, in a more large and abundant manner. But though his heart goes out thus more amply to Jesus Christ, and hath communion with him and his righteousness, yet he believeth also on God the Father, that ordained and sent his Son out of his grace, and believes on him as the pardoner of his sin. And...he that hath communion with God the Father in seeking his love, he doth it in Christ impliedly, as through whose mediation he hath access unto the Father.

Goodwin believes that this experience lies behind the text '1 John ii. 13 (I cite it to this very purpose, to shew that sometimes the heart of one Christian runs out more to the Father, and at other times more to the Son), I write unto you, fathers, because you have known him that is from the beginning. Who is that? Jesus Christ; chap. i. 1, That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the word of life : that is apparently Jesus Christ, Then again, says he, I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father. Here the spirits of the one run out at differing seasons, sometimes more to God, sometimes more to Jesus Christ. I will not stand to explain whom he means by fathers, and whom by babes, nor need I do it as to my purpose; it is enough for the present that it is ascribed to the same sort of persons at different times, that when they were babes, they knew the Father ; when fathers, they knew Christ more intently. The reason of which different intentions of our spirits is, that our souls are narrow vessels, and use not to be intent on two so eminent objects at once, which therefore take their turns in our hearts, that we take in sometimes the one, and sometimes the other.'

Goodwin goes on to show in the next chapter that 'when we come to Christ, and believe on him, there is a concurrence and consent of all the three persons in the Godhead unto that great work'. ' Christ is the object of faith, so, when any soul is converted, and drawn to believe on him, there is the concurrence of all the three persons in the Trinity to that work, and that they all put forth conjointly a renewed act of agreement in it'.

We need not think therefore that when Christ is set forth in the gospel that there is a disservice done to the other members of the Godhead. It the mercies of God in Christ are preached this will take in the work of the Father also in setting forth his Son for a propitiation and in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.

It is the mercies of God but it is bound up in a person, the person of the Mediator and not merely a bare promise. He that hath the Son hath life. The puritan William Spurstowe said "Those Divines who in their Catechetical Systems have made the formal object of Faith to be the Promise, rather than The Person of Christ, have failed in their expressions, if not in their intentions." - SPURSTOW on Rom. vi. 1.

"Faith does not marry the soul to the portion, benefits, and privileges of Christ, but to Christ Himself. I don't say that the soul may not have an eye to these, and a respect to these in closing with Christ; yea, usually these are the first things that faith has in its eye. But the soul does, and must go higher; he must look at and pitch upon The Person of Christ, or his faith is not so right and complete as it ought to be. It is The Person of Christ that is the great fountain of all grace and of all manifestations of God to us; and faith accordingly does close with His Person." - PEARSE's Best Match, p. 160.

Monday, May 26, 2008

No time to be spiritually-minded?

The following extract is from John Owen's book "The Grace and Duty of being Spiritually Minded". It is a very striking piece and deals with objections to fixing the thoughts consistently upon spiritual things, particularly the objection that we do not have time to devote to this duty. (See also the last post from John Owen in relation to this objection.) Owen contends that we owe to God the best and most of our time. He shows how we can be spiritually-minded and diligent in our work.

Some, it may be, will say, that if all these things are required thereunto, it will take up a man’s whole life and time to be spiritually minded. They hope they may attain it at an easier rate, and not forego all other advantages and sweetnesses of life, which a strict observation of these things would cast them upon.

I answer, that however it may prove a hard saying unto some, yet I must say it, and my heart would reproach me if I should not say, that if the principal part of our time be not spent about these things, whatever we suppose, we have indeed neither life nor peace. The first-fruits of all were to be offered unto God; and in sacrifices he required the blood and the fat of the inwards. If the best be not his, he will have nothing. It is so as to our time. Tell me, I pray you, how you can spend your time and your lives better, or to better purpose, and I shall say, Go on and prosper. I am sure some spend so much of their time so much worse as it is a shame to see it. Do you think you came into this world to spend your whole time and strength in your employments, your trades, your pleasures, unto the satisfaction of the "wills of the flesh and of the mind?" Have you time enough to eat, to drink, to sleep, to talk unprofitably, it may be corruptly, in all sorts of unnecessary societies, but have not enough to live unto God in the very essentials of that life which consists in these things? Alas! you came into the world under this law, "It is appointed to men once to die, and after this the judgment," Hebrews 9:27; and the end why your life is here granted unto you is that you may be prepared for that judgment. If this be neglected, if the principal part of your time be not improved with respect unto this end, you will fall under the sentence of it unto eternity.

But men are apt to mistake in this matter. They may think that these things tend to take them off from their lawful employments and recreations, which they are generally afraid of, and unwilling to purchase any frame of mind at so dear a rate. They may suppose that to have men spiritually minded, we would make them mopes, and to disregard all the lawful occasions of life...The generality of Christians have lawful callings, employments, and businesses, which ordinarily they ought to abide in. That they also may live unto God in their occasions, they may do well to consider two things: —

(1.) Industry in men’s callings is a thing in itself very commendable. If in nothing else, it hath an advantage herein, that it is a means to preserve men from those excesses in lust and riot which otherwise they are apt to run into. And if you consider the two sorts of men whereinto the generality of mankind are distributed, — namely, of them who are industrious in their affairs, and those who spend their time, so far as they are able, in idleness and pleasure, — the former sort are far more amiable and desirable. Howbeit it is capable of being greatly abused. Earthly mindedness, covetousness, devouring things holy as to times and seasons of duty, uselessness, and the like pernicious vices, do invade and possess the minds of men. There is no lawful calling that doth absolutely exclude this grace of being spiritually minded in them that are engaged in it, nor any that doth include it. Men may be in the meanest of lawful callings and be so, and men may be in the best and highest and not be so. Consider the calling of the ministry: The work and duty of it calls on those that are employed in it to have their minds and thoughts conversant about spiritual and heavenly things. They are to study about them, to meditate on them, to commit them to memory, to speak them out unto others. It will be said, "Surely such men must needs be spiritually minded." If they go no farther than what is mentioned, I say they must needs be so as printers must needs be learned, who are continually conversant about letters. A man may with great industry engage himself in these things, and yet his mind be most remote from being spiritual. The event doth declare that it may be so. And the reasons of it are manifest. It requires as much if not more watchfulness, more care, more humility, for a minister to be spiritually minded in the discharge of his calling, than for any other sort of men in theirs; and that, as for other reasons, so because the commonness of the exercise of such thoughts, with their design upon others in their expression, will take off their power and efficacy. And he will have little benefit by his own ministry who endeavors not in the first place an experience in his own heart of the power of the truths which he doth teach unto others. And there is evidently as great a failing herein among us as among any other sort of Christians, as every occasion of trial doth demonstrate.

(2.) Although industry in any honest calling be allowable, yet unless men labour to be spiritually minded in the exercise of that industry, they have neither life nor peace. Hereunto all the things before mentioned are necessary; I know not how any of them can be abated; yea, more is required than is expressed in them. If you burn this roll, another must be written, and many like things must be added unto it. And the objection from the expense of time in the observance of them is of no force; for a man may do as much work whilst he is spiritually minded as whilst he is carnal. Spiritual thoughts will no more hinder you in your callings than those that are vain and earthly, which all sorts of men can find leisure for in the midst of their employments. If you have filled a vessel with chaff, yet you may pour into it a great deal of water, which will be contained in the same space and vessel; and if it be necessary that you should take in much of the chaff of the world into your minds, yet are they capable of such measures of grace as shall preserve them sincere unto God.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Marks of heart-covenanters with God

John Willison

Examination. O communicants, try if ye be within this covenant; remember, if you be not you have no right to the seals of it; no right to sit down at the Lord’s table. "Let a man examine himself and so let him eat." And examine yourselves by these marks.
1. Know you any thing of a change of your state? Can you say, "Once I was a bond-slave to Satan, and an enemy to God: once I loved sin, and hated holiness: but now God hath opened my eyes, and humbled my heart for sin, and made me cast down the weapons of my rebellion at his feet: once I was at peace without Christ the Mediator; but now I see nothing but fire and wrath out of him: once I thought little of sin; but now I see it to be the most black and bloody thing in the world." Then this is a good sign.
2. If you be in covenant with God, you will certainly love God with your hearts, and love the Mediator, who brought you into the covenant. Can you say then with Peter, "Lord, thou that knowest all things, knowest that I love thee?" Lord, though I cannot hear, pray, praise, or communicate as I ought, yet thou knowest I love thee; yea, I love thee above all things. And though all the riches, honours, and pleasures of the world were in my offer or possession, and Christ would say, you must either part with these, or part with me; my heart would answer, Lord, abide thou with me, and let them all be gone.
3. Those that are in covenant with God, have certainly made choice of God, as their God and portion. Can you say you have done this, O doubting communicant? Though you cannot say that God hath chosen you, yet doth your heart truly choose him? And are you resolved never to be satisfied without him? And whatever offers be made to you, yet you will be put off with nothing besides God. Then this may give you comfort.
4. Can you say you have made a resignation of yourselves, and of all you have to God, and you resolve to renew it again this night in secret, and to-morrow before men and angels? Then it is a token for good. It may be, doubting soul, thou art afraid to say, Lord, thou art my God; but canst thou venture to say, "Lord, I am thine, I resolve to be thine, and thine only; I will not be mine own, I will not be the devil’s, I will not be the world’s, I will not be my lust’s; Lord, I am resolved to be no one’s but thine." Well, let this comfort you when other marks cannot. For if once you come the length to say, "Lord, I am thine," you may say in the next place, "Lord, thou art mine;" for the relation is always reciprocal: and this is the reasoning of the spouse, Cant. vi. 3, "I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine."
5. Are you mightily pleased with the contrivement and design of this covenant, which is to debase self; and exalt free grace? And would you desire heaven, though it were for no more than to stand eternal monuments of free grace, and join your note with the redeemed, eternally to cry, "Not unto us, not unto us, but to thee be the glory?"
And, Lastly, Are you inclined to perform covenanted-duties conscientiously, and that in a covenant-way, relying on covenant strength, and from a principle of love and gratitude to your covenanted God, and with an eye to glorify his name: then fear not to come forward to take the seal of the covenant, for you belong to it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Is there enough time for all of our duties?

This question follows on from our previous post. John Owen provides the answer. God certainly gives us enough time for all of the duties that he lays upon us. The following is from 'The Nature, Power, Deceit and Prevalency of Indwelling Sin'.

The deceitfulness of sin makes use of corrupt reasonings, taken from the pressing and urging occasions of life. "Should we," says it in the heart, "attend strictly unto all duties in this kind, we should neglect our principal occasions, and be useless unto ourselves and others in the world." And on this general account, particular businesses dispossess particular duties from their due place and time. Men have not leisure to glorify God and save their own souls, It is certain that God gives us time enough for all that he requires of us in any kind in this world. No duties need to jostle one another, I mean constantly. Especial occasions must be determined according unto especial circumstances. But if in any thing we take more upon us than we have time well to perform it in, without robbing God of that which is due to him and our own souls, this God calls not unto, this he blesseth us not in. It is more tolerable that our duties of holiness and regard to God should intrench upon the duties of our callings and employments in this world than on the contrary; and yet neither doth God require this at our hands, in an ordinary manner or course. How little, then, will he bear with that which evidently is so much worse upon all accounts whatever! But yet, through the deceitfulness of sin, thus are the souls of men beguiled. By several degrees they are at length driven from their duty.

Get grace, then, up betimes unto duty, and be early in the rebukes of sin. 3. Though it do its worst, yet be sure it never prevail to a conquest. Be sure you be not wearied out by its pertinacity, nor driven from your hold by its importunity; do not faint by its opposition. Take the apostle's advice, Hebrews 6:11,12, "We desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end: that ye be not slothful."

Still hold out in the same diligence. There are many ways whereby men are driven from a constant holy performance of duties, all of them dangerous, if not pernicious to the soul. Some are diverted by business, some by company, some by the power of temptations, some discouraged by their own darkness; but none so dangerous as this, when the soul gives over in part or in whole, as wearied by the aversation of sin unto it, or to communion with God in it. This argues the soul's giving up of itself unto the power of sin; which, unless the Lord break the snare of Satan therein, will assuredly prove ruinous. Our Savior's instruction is, that "we ought always to pray, and not to faint," Luke 18:1. Opposition will arise, — none so bitter and keen as that from our own hearts; if we faint, we perish. "Take heed lest ye be wearied," saith the apostle, "and faint in your minds," Hebrews 12:3. Such a fainting as attended with a weariness, and that with a giving place to the aversation working in our hearts, is to be avoided, if we would not perish. The caution is the same with that of the same apostle, Romans 12:12, "Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing instant in prayer;" and in general with that of chap. 6:12, "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof."

To cease from duty, in part or in whole, upon the aversation of sin unto its spirituality, is to give sin the rule, and to obey it in the lusts thereof.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The acceleration of everything (spiritual)

The book by James Gleick Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything (Pantheon, 1999) argues that everything is speeding up; technology, entertainment, work and the pace of invention and change. "If there is an ultimate limit to the pace of entertainment, we must now be approaching it...In some ways, we are past the limit. Any day now, lawyers will take note of the considerable quantities of television text-including copyright notices and advertising fine print-that flash by too fast for any human to read it."

We hear of 'hurry-sickness' and the advent of real-time communications and delivery of work seems to intensify this by creating higher expectations. The distinction between work time and free time seems blurred, as employers expect more time from their employees and if they are at a certain level to be always 'on call' through an 'electronic tagging device'.

"At least in industries like high-tech and finance, quick-wittedness rules," observes Nicholas Lemann, author of The Big Test. "Some companies, such as Microsoft or D. E. Shaw, the stock-picking firm, are particularly known for hiring on the basis of mind speed and for peppering job applicants with SAT-like questions in interviews so as to bring the quality into high relief." There is an obsession with time-management among executives - seeing every instance of communication as a battlefield where they must win the war for productive time.

Gleick points to this obsession with accelerating everything and the effects of it as "mania" which is "defined by psychologists as an abnormal state of excitement, encompassing exhilaration, elation, euphoria, a sense of the mind racing. Maybe our hurry sickness is as simple as that. We-those of us in the faster cities and faster societies and faster mass culture of the technocratic dawn of the third millennium C.E.--are manic. The symptoms of mania are all too familiar: volubility and fast speech; restlessness and decreased need for sleep; heightened motor activity and increased self-confidence…. These are the time obsessions of complex civilizations, populous nation-states with many technologies."

"This is not a state of affairs that would, at most times and places in history, have been considered normal and healthy". Ironically it is something of a state of mind since it has been shown that Americans have almost five hours more free time per week than in the 1960s. Yet there is a perception of less time and more stress. That free time is, however, more defined and controlled by the media and commercialised 'lifestyle' anxieties than ever before.

This busyness of life easily spiils into the time that we give to spiritual things if we are not careful. Devotions and family worship become accelerated with one eye on the clock. Perhaps we start to feel we only have time for one or the other. We feel that we have not time to give to reading that will enrich our souls so we feed only on religous news or comments. We are so harrassed by all the communications that pour into our eyes and ears that we do not have time at the end of the day to cast up our spiritual accounts and deal with our wanderings at that time as we should.

It seems surprising to us that the question: "When may a Christian be said to pursue the affairs of the present life, so as to prevent his advances in grace, dishonor God, and injure his soul?" may have been asked in the mid-eighteenth century. The minister Samuel Hayward in addressing this responds that "the Christian may be said to pursue the world, so as to dishonor God, prevent his growth in grace, and injure his soul, When it breaks in upon his opportunities of attending to spiritual duties". "It is not enough that we spend one day in seven in attending to the concerns of our souls. The Christian must not let the week slip away, even if his worldly engagements are never so great, without conversing with God and his own heart; if he does, it is a sad sign of his being in languishing circumstances. Spiritual meditation, self-examination, prayer, religious conversation, and reading the scriptures, are all duties of great importance; duties in the performance of which the Christian life is maintained, corruptions are subdued, graces are strengthened, and he is enabled to make some progress in his way to Zion. I say not how often a person must pray, read, hear, etc., that he may grow in grace. But when we find our worldly engagements breaking in upon our spiritual duties, and gradually curtailing our opportunities of attending to them, we should take the alarm. We have many enemies to encounter with in our Christian warfare. We have but little strength. We had need be much upon our guard, be much in prayer, and in the use of those means, which are necessary to our spiritual prosperity. When the world therefore encroaches upon our time, so as to leave but little for these duties, we have reason to be afraid of a decline. Many have begun well, have set out with attending to the duties of the family and the closet; but the world, increasing upon them, has taken up their time; they have left off all family prayer, and are, I fear, too little in the duties of retirement, and plead, for an excuse, they have no time. They content themselves herein by a persuasion that the work was begun some time since, and therefore they are safe, though they cannot so well attend to all the duties they once did. Whether these persons are Christians or not, I dare not determine; but I apprehend we may without hesitation conclude, that they are not growing Christians. They bring no honor to religion. They who give up such opportunities as these for the world, reflect thereby upon the concerns of the soul, as of a trifling nature, and far inferior to outward enjoyments: and I need not say how much this grieves the Spirit, and brings a consumption upon the new man. But if, whilst you are pursuing the world, you will reserve time for family and closet religion, for looking into your hearts, and attending the means of spiritual improvement, you may be growing as to both worlds".

"How much should each be concerned to examine himself with regard to his pursuits of the world! If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him, 1 John 2:15. The covetous shall not inherit the kingdom of God, I Cor. 6:10. This should put us upon inquiry, whether we fall under this character or not. We should inquire, whether we do not dishonor God, and injure our souls, by a too diligent pursuit of inferior comforts? Does the world take up all my time? Can I easily omit duties, the duties of the family, or of the closet? Do I find a growing coldness to spiritual duties? What is my end in pursuing the world, to gratify an unbounded ambition of honor, wealth or pleasure; or is it to improve every mercy, and employ every talent for the glory of God? With what frame do I pursue the world? What impression, what influence has it upon me? God knows how it is with you: I must leave it to your consciences to answer."

"What matter of lamentation is it, that there are so many professing Christianity, who are of so worldly a temper? Does it not call for a tear, when we see so much of a covetous, proud, carnal, trifling spirit amongst those who call themselves Christians? Alas, alas! How much time in the world, how little with God? What eagerness in worldly, but what coldness in spiritual pursuits? How cheerfully are opportunities embraced for the world, but how they are omitted for God! How does the world lift us up! What readiness to lay out any thing upon self, how backward to use it for the good of others! What self love amongst Christians! Is it not so? Canst thou stand the test, Christian? Is not thy heart too much divided? Art thou not too greedy of earthly gain? Dost thou not trust too much in thy riches? Where is thy love to God, thy zeal for his glory? O be ashamed, ye professors of religion, be ashamed for your earthliness, your coldness, your carnality and unprofitableness."

"Consider amidst your pursuits of present things, that they are all transitory and uncertain, Luke 12:16–21. Consider, and walk under the view of that day, when you must give an account of your improvement of time, with all your enjoyments. Consider the obligations Christ has laid you under to him, and what a short time you have to do anything for him or his people. Consider how much more excellent spiritual enjoyments are than temporal. And may the Lord enable us all to keep a watch over our hearts, and to use this world so as not to abuse it, knowing that the fashion of all things is passing away."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Richard Sibbes and the love of Christ

The puritan Richard Sibbes was called 'the heavenly Doctor'. Izaac Walton wrote of Sibbes:

Of this blest man, let this just praise be given,
Heaven was in him, before he was in heaven.

Here is a good summary of his life.
Sibbes' book 'The Bruised Reed' was instrumental in the conversion of Richard Baxter who said that the book 'opened more the Love of God to me and gave me a livelier apprehension of the Mystery of Redemption, and how much I was beholden to Jesus Christ'.

His writing exudes this character.Sibbes describes preaching as the lifting up of the banner of Christ's love'.'When the beauty of Christ is unfolded, it draws the wounded, hungry, soul unto him' (2:232). 'Christ is the object of all the senses. Beloved, he is not only beauty to the eye, but sweetness to the smell, and to the taste' (2:152). He describes the presence of Christ 'delectable as spices and flowers'.

The following are some precious quotations from Sibbes.

"seek for heaven in hell that seek for spiritual love in an unchanged heart"

"with the same love that God loves Christ, he loves all his."

"Love is a boundless affection."

"Love is the weight and wing of the soul, which carries it where it goes"

"Beloved, get love.. ..It melts us into the likeness of Christ. It constrains, it hath a kind of holy violence

"we are not as we know, but as we love"

The following article by Joel Beeke is very helpful. Richard Sibbes on Entertaining the Holy Spirit.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Brief History of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland

By Rev. NEIL MACINTYRE, Edinburgh (Paper Delivered at 1943 Synod).

The Free Presbyterian Church has had a wonderful history. She might be compared to the vine brought from Egypt which took root and filled the land and the boughs extended over the sea. Such is the history of the Free Presbyterian Church. She began in a very small way. Two ministers and one elder formed her first Presbytery. To-day we have twenty-five ministers with many lay missionaries. We are represented in England and South Africa, where we have two ordained European missionaries and a female teacher. We also have Mission Stations in America, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. At the beginning of our history enemies predicted we could only exist for a year or two owing to want of funds and leaders. But these prophets proved to be false, for we are now fifty years in existence, which is our Jubilee, and no appearance of us coming to an end notwithstanding the wishful thinking of some who do not wish us well. This should humble us and make us give the glory to Him who hitherto has helped us.

Let me give a brief sketch of the history of the Free Presbyterian Church. In 1843 the Free Church made an noble stand in defence of the crown rights of the Lord Jesus Christ as King and Head of His own Church. The Disruption Fathers contended, especially during the "Ten Years' Conflict," against the intrusion of the Civil Court to rule in the House of God. On account of this unscriptural interference the Constitutional party were compelled to separate not from the Church of Scotland as to her creed and constitution, but from the Erastian party, as was clearly stated by Dr. Chalmers—"We have left," he said, "a vitiated Establishment but we would gladly return to a pure one and we are not Voluntaries."

In 1843 the Free Church firmly maintained the absolute inerrancy of God's Word and the purity of worship. In 1863 a Committee was appointed to consider whether difficulties which stood in the way of Union between the UP. Church and the Free Church could be removed. This question caused a bitter controversy between the Constitutionalists and the Rainy party. In 1873 Dr. Rainy, afraid of a serious split in the Church called a halt and for the time dropped the subject.

The Free Church which made such a noble stand in defence of truth and principle and which the Lord so abundantly acknowledged did not proceed far on her ecclesiastical journey when boars from the forest appeared to devour her, and break down her hedges. The first to be noticed of these heretics who publicly expressed their pernicious opinions regarding the infallibility of God's Word was Professor Rob-ertson Smith of Aberdeen. He publicly denied the authenticity and inspiration of several parts of the1 Bible." After much wrangling over his case in the courts of the Church he was finally suspended from his professorial chair'by a majority vote. That his suspension was by a majority showed clearly that he had many supporters and sympathisers behind him. The decision no doubt encouraged other sceptics regarding the infallibility of the Word of God. Professors Dods, Bruce, Denney, Drummond and others publicly stated that there were errors and immoralities in the Bible. These heretical teachers instilled their false doctrines into the minds of their students and when they were licensed they went over the land like a plague of locusts spreading their pernicious views among the people. While these men were preaching their unscriptural doctrines they felt they had no legal authority in doing so. In 1889 an Overture was presented to the General Assembly craving that a Committee be appointed to enquire as to how the difficulties and scruples that some professed to have regarding certain doctrines of the Confession of Faith might be removed. A Committee was appointed and gave in their report. In 1891 the Assembly by a large majority approved of the report and on the motion of Dr. Rainy it was sent down to Presbyteries under the "Barrier Act" for their approval or disapproval. Presbyteries were not allowed to make any changes, but simply to say "yes" or "no." In 1892 the Act came up at the Assembly and as it was approved by a great majority of Presbyteries, Dr. Rainy moved that it be passed as a Declaratory Act. The Constitutionalists moved a counter motion. There voted for Dr. Rainy's motion 428, and for the counter motion by Rev. Murdo MacAskill, Dingwall, 66. So the Act was passed by a large majority as "a binding law and constitution of the Church." Some maintained that because the Questions and Formula were not changed the Act was not binding. That argument is vain for the Act would have to be passed into law before any one could be asked to subscribe it. Some Presbyteries arid Synods entered Protests in their minutes against the Act, but all these when they came up to the Assembly were ordered to be deleted and declared null and void.

In 1893 several Overtures were sent up from Presbyteries and Synods to the Assembly to have the Act repealed, but it was moved by Dr. Rainy that the Assembly pass from these Overtures, which was carried by a large majority. Twenty-one ministers and twenty-one elders dissented from that finding. It was then the Rev. Donald Macfarlane (Mr. Macfarlane was not a member in 1892) stepped forward and tabled his Protest in which he stated that the General Assembly in passing the Declaratory Act into a law of the Church in 1892 ceased to be the true representative of the Free Church of Scotland and declared that he claimed all his secred and civil rights according to the terms of contract agreed upon between him and Free Church at his ordination. Dr. Rainy said if the document Mr. Macfarlane had laid on their table, were it merely a dissent, they would have no hesitation in allowing it, but it was much more, it was an express repudiation of the authority and validity of the Act of the General Assembly. He then moved that they do not receive the Protest. The Free Church adopted the Declaratory Act as part of its constitution, and all who remained in connection with it were under its jurisdiction whether they agreed with the Act or not.

It is rather strange to find some among us now who hold that it was when Messrs. Macfarlane and Macdonald, with Mr. Macfarlane, elder, Raasay, constituted themselves as the Free Church Presbytery of Scotland that they separated from the Free Church. That certainly was not Mr. Macfarlane's view when he tabled his Protest. Besides, if that view is correct, which we hold is not, then the history of the Free Presbyterian Church will have to be re-written.

After Mr. Macfarlane protested he agreed to come to Millhouse, Kames, for Sabbath, and hold a meeting of the congregation on Monday. On his way there he stayed with me on Friday night at 147 Albert Street, Glasgow, where he met a number of students, including the late Messrs. Cameron and Macrae and others. After some discussion it was agreed that Mr. Macfarlane should call a meeting of the Millhouse congregation on Monday. The meeting was called and the whole congregation attended. After Mr. Macfarlane and others had explained the ecclesiastical position the whole congregation except six decided to separate from the Declaratory Act Church. That was the first congregation to cast in their lot with Mr. Macfarlane. The late Mr. Archibald Crawford who was present was asked to express his mind. He rose and said:-"I saw this bastard child being formed in the womb of the Free Church when Drs. Dods and Bruce were appointed professors, but as the constitution was not changed I did not actually leave the Church, but now that this bastard child is born in the Declaratory Act, whatever others will do, I am done with the Declaratory Act Church forever."

Mr. Macfarlane, greatly encouraged by the noble stand made by the Millhouse congregation returned home to Raasay where he was then minister. On Monday after the Communion (2nd Sabbath of June) he explained his own position and asked those who adhered to the Word of God and the Confession of Faith to stand. All stood except very few. Soon after a public meeting was convened at Inverness. The Rev. Donald Macdonald, Sheildaig, who had not yet publicly declared his mind was present. He rose and intimated that he refused to acknowledge the Declaratory Act Church as the Free Church of Scotland, and that he was taking his stand with Mr. Macfarlane. At this meeting it was agreed that immediate steps be taken to form a Presbytery. On 27th July the Revs. D. Macfarlane, D. Macdonald, with Mr. Alexander Macfarlane, elder, Raasay, met in conference at Raasay and resolved to meet in the name of the Head of the Church and constitute themselves a separate Presbytery, not owning the jurisdiction of, the courts of the Church calling herself the Free Church of Scotland. By this action they placed themselves beyond the power of the Declaratory Act Church. It was said that Dr. Rainy admitted that that was the cleverest Act known in the history of the Church in Scotland. The Presbytery was first called "The Free Church Presbytery of Scotland." It was afterwards discovered that the above name might cause it to clash, especially in financial matters, with the Free Church, so in July 1894, after due deliberation, it was unanimously agreed that the Church be called the "Free Presbyterian Church." This, we were told, was a great disappointment to the Rainy party, for that was the name they had in view to give to the United Free Church.

A Committee was appointed by the Declaratory Act Free Church to take legal proceedings against the Free Presbyterian Church to claim the property, but as Messrs. Macfarlane and Macdonald did not contest the case in the Civil Courts they were evicted from their churches and manses. But the Lord whom they served and whose cause they defended soon provided them with churches and manses.

The Free Presbyterian Church did not proceed far on her ecclesiastical journey when serious and trying troubles assailed her especially with some of her ministers and students. As was said by a certain writer in our Church magazine-"Some of the officers and crew, dissatisfied with the discipline of the smaller ship have left her for a vessel of larger dimensions and wider liberality." While we lamented the departure of these men, and especially some of them, yet that did not change or cause the Church from faithfully adhering to the position she took up in 1893 in defence of truth and principle.

I am not going to refer to many other troubles we have had during these fifty years. If we, however, hold fast by the infallible Word of God and the testimony of the Free Presbyterian Church we may expect trials and opposition. Christ said to His disciples-"In this world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." While we have much reason to mourn over our short-comings and failings, yet on the other hand we have many reasons to take courage and hold fast the position we took up in 1893, and set up our Ebenezer that "Hitherto hath the Lord helped us."

We had and have our differences at times regarding Church procedure and discipline, yet we maintain that these differences do not change the attitude of the Free Presbyterian Church regarding the absolute integrity of God's infallible Word which all our ministers, office-bearers and people are pledged to uphold and defend. While we greatly deplore the many divisions in the professing churches in the land we would rejoice to see the people turning to the Word of God and to a scriptural form of worship of which, alas! there are no signs at present. It is, therefore, our duty as a Church to hold fast by God's Word and to purity of worship as He has commanded us. May the Lord in infinite mercy grant us an outpouring of His Spirit that we turn to Him in repent-ence and godly sorrow. He is removing from our midst one by one to their eternal rest many who were faithful witnesses in our Church, but His command to us is—"Hold fast that which thou hast that no man take thy crown."

We would earnestly appeal to our young people to adhere steadfastly to the testimony raised by their godly fathers in 1893, and to shun countenancing churches who have openly and defiantly departed from the Word of God and from the purity of His worship. We would earnestly pray that this, our Jubilee year, would be one in which many would "be delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the Kingdom of His dear Son."

Monday, May 05, 2008

7 reasons for confessionalism

Scott Clark has a useful reflection upon the necessity of confessionalism in the contemporary confusion. Samuel Miller's defence of confessionalism "The Utility and Importance of Creeds and Confessions" is one of the great classic works in this area. Miller states the danger that can arise from individuals. One 'may have unfeigned piety, as well as talents and learning; and yet, from habitual indiscretion ; from a defect in that sobriety of mind, which is so precious to all men, but especially to every one who occupies a public
station; from a fondness for novelty and innovation, or from that love of distinction which is so natural to men; — after all, instead of edifying the "body
of Christ," he may become a disturber of its peace, and a corrnpter of its purity'. He points out 'how easy it is for a single imprudent or unsound minister to do extensive and irreparable mischief in the Church. Such an one, especially if he be a man of talents and influence, by setting himself, either openly or covertly, against the public standards of his church; by addressing popular feeling, and availing himself of popular prejudice ; may do more, in a short time, to prepare the way for fatal error, than all his usefulness, though multiplied a hundred fold, would be
able to countervail.'

There are 7 points in defence of ecclesiastical confessions.
2. One great design of establishing a church in our world was, that she might be in all ages, a DEPOSITORY, A GUARDIAN, AND A WITNESS OF THE TRUTH.
3. The adoption and publication of a Creed, is A TRIBUTE TO TRUTH AND CANDOUR, which every Christian church OWES TO THE OTHER CHURCHES, AND TO THE WORLD AROUND HER.

Miller then refutes a few common objections to having ecclesiastical confessions and requiring subscription to them on the part of office-bearers.
1. That having a Creed, and requiring subscription to it as a religious test, is SUPERSEDING THE BIBLE, AND MAKING A HUMAN COMPOSITION INSTEAD OF IT A STANDARD OF FAITH.
2. Another objection frequently made to church Creeds is, that they INTERFERE WITH THE RIGHTS OF CONSCIENCE, AND NATURALLY LEAD TO OPPRESSION.
3. A third objection often urged against subscription to Creeds and Confessions is, that it is UNFRIENDLY TO FREE INQUIRY.
4. A fourth objection frequently brought against Creeds is, that they have ALTOGETHER FAILED OF ANSWERING THE PURPOSE PROFESSED TO BE INTENDED BY THEM.
5. The last objection which I shall consider is, that subscription to Creeds, has not only failed entirely of producing the benefits contemplated by their friends; but has rather been found to PRODUCE THE OPPOSITE EVILS; TO GENERATE DISCORD AND

Miller then draws PRACTICAL INFERENCES from the foregoing principles and reasonings.
1. From the representation which has been given, we may see HOW LITTLE REASON ANY HAVE TO BE AFRAID OF CREEDS, AS INSTRUMENTS OF OPPRESSION.
2. We may see, from what has been said, that subscribing a church Creed, is not a mere formality; but a VERY SOLEMN TRANSACTION, WHICH MEANS MUCH, AND INFERS THE MOST SERIOUS OBLIGATIONS.
3. From the view which has been presented of this subject, we may decide HOW AN HONEST MAN OUGHT TO ACT, AFTER SUBSCRIBING TO A PUBLIC CREED.
5. The duty and importance of all the members, and especially the ministers, of the Presbyterian church, exerting themselves TO SPREAD A KNOWLEDGE OF HER PUBLIC STANDARDS.
6. Once more; if the foregoing principles be just, then how unhappy is the mistake of those who imagine, that, BY ABANDONING ALL CREEDS AND CONFESSIONS, THEY ARE ABOUT TO RENDER THE CHURCH AN ESSENTIAL SERVICE; to build her up more extensively and gloriously than ever!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Single Version of the Truth

"A Single version of the truth" is a cliché commonly heard in the context of information management and business intelligence. It seeks to address the problem when similar information is held but not in a standardised way or in the same location, this can mean that it is not coordinated, out of date or reported in a slightly different way so that the information appears to be in conflict. The quality and reliability of the data thereby becomes questionable and open to interpretation. It means a company can't analyse the information about its operation and benefit as a result. One single version of the truth is a single set of reports and definitions for all business terms, to make sure every manager has the same understanding.

While this may be obvious in business - in other smore vital pheres it seems less obvious to many. In the context of the Truth, the Scriptures and their message, liberal theology has long maintained that there are many versions of the truth. They are contradictory but that it because your's is just one version of the truth among many versions. They have applied this idea of the truth as variable and elusive in the direction of inter-faith integration.

Evangelicals have largely resisted this notion but it is coming under attack by post-evangelicals such as the Emerging Church movement. They are taking a postmodern turn dismissing the emphasis upon propositional truth. John MacArthur in The Truth War (Nelson, Spring 2007) argues that many self-styled evangelicals today are openly questioning whether such a thing as truth even exists. Don Carson has written in 'Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church', "For almost everyone within the movement, this works out in an emphasis on feelings and affections over against linear thought and rationalities; on experience over against truth; on inclusion over against exclusion; on participation over individualism and the heroic loner." This approach produces what Brian McLaren calls "a new kind of Christian," and a new kind of church.

In relation to the Scriptures, we find that evangelicalism is at sea in having adopted the idea that many competing versions of the Scriptures is no bad thing. Many people say in our own day that we cannot have one translation of the Scriptures in any given language that can deliver a single authoritative Bible and will also fulfil everyone's requirements. There are now many more than 100 versions of the Bible in the English language; so many that it is becoming increasingly difficult to count them. The potential for the individual Christian to be confused and bewildered as a result is significant. Which Bible is correct and authoritative or can any be regarded as such? Each modern version competes aggressively with its rivals by proclaiming its unique and superior qualities. The reader might well think to themselves that there is always a new, improved and more appealing (partly because it will be new) version which will shortly succeed any promising new translation. Everyone chooses the Bible translation that suits their preferences and taste. This idea, however, undermines the very nature and purpose of the Scriptures.

The purpose of God in delivering the Bible to the Church is otherwise utterly undermined by the multiplication of translations in a language. When the Church allows doubt and serious confusion as to what Scripture constitutes and how it is to be rendered, however, it must be driven about by every wind and wave rather than being steadfastly established and strengthened by the unshakeable foundation of the Scriptures. English-speaking churches and believers need an accurate standard translation that they can appeal to and share as the fixed rule of faith of the true religion.

We have had a reliable single version of the truth in the English language in the Authorised Version for many centuries and none of the emerging versions have surpassed it in its accuracy. Indeed they fall far short. The AV as a translation is not of course equal to the original - but it is a reliable translation which opens up the original to English speakers. We need only one such translation.

These thoughts are followed out more fully in the following article